The rugby world was given a nasty surprise yesterday when former Scotland full-back Rory Lamont accused both the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) and his former employers Toulon of forcing him to play on through injuries that could have played a part in his career coming to a premature end earlier this year. Of course, the SRU have denied this but I don’t think Lamont’s claims should just be ignored.
Every sportsman or woman will pick up an injury at some point in their careers, it’s just the way that sport works. At club level people will often play on through these injuries if possible as it’s something they do to relieve the stresses of work, but for those professionals playing on could lead to further problems that could end their careers. As a result, they would have no means of earning an income and, all of a sudden, would have gone from the top right to the bottom of the employment ‘ladder.’ Lamont said that he broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist near the start of one season, yet was refused a scan by Toulon until that campaign ended. He added that “they just kept playing it down as something insignificant, whereas effectively I was running the risk of arthritis in later life by not having it fixed” – not only were the club seemingly making him play when his performance would have been hindered, they were also potentially creating problems that could affect him in later life. Arthritis is not only a painful condition, it is also one that could have severely hampered his chances of getting another job, especially if it affected his hands. It seems as though the club were only focused on the present and ignoring the future of both Lamont as a player and as a father/husband.
In 2010, Lamont also claims to have been forced to play through a Test for his country against New Zealand despite suffering a hamstring injury. “I didn’t feel that I could withdraw myself from that match,” he said. “I was unsure if I was going to be able to make it through the game. I felt that I didn’t really have a choice if I wanted to keep on trying to be picked for Scotland and keep a good relationship with the coaches.” That’s extremely worrying – players should not feel as if they have to play on through a problem because they fear upsetting their coaches. If that was the case (as the management team has since changed) then how many more Scottish internationals have potentially risked their careers to keep their coaches happy?
Hamstring injuries, even minor ones, can cause quite a lot of pain and their prognosis is unpredictable. You have to rest completely until you feel that it is fully healed or else you risk pulling it again and spending more time recovering instead of playing. Lamont was a very good player with great pace that would have been severely hampered by the problem, so should have not partaken in the game, even if it was against the greatest side in the world. He would have easily managed to regain his place in the team when he regained fitness, making this claim even more surprising. It seems that he must have had a strained relationship with certain members of the SFU, perhaps because he already spoken up about how he felt on the way they treated injuries.
Rugby union is, arguably, the most physical sport in the world and your fitness levels need to be at 100% in order to play. It is not uncommon for players to miss a game or two for their club side due a seemingly minor injury, especially before an international match, but even the smallest of knocks can make a player hesitant and, in a contact game, this can seriously affect performance while also increasing the chance of further injury. In other games, such as cricket, players can play on through injury but only when the management regime feels they are fit enough. Kevin Pietersen is a great example – he was forced out of the last two Test matches against New Zealand in March and then whole of the reverse series in May as the English Cricket Board (ECB) wanted him fit for the current Ashes series. He was suffering with a bruised kneecap, a minor yet painful injury, and the ECB took the bold decision to tell him not to play in order to get him fit. Ultimately it seems not to have worked as his fitness for the third Test is in question, but the ECB were clearly focused on the long-term. The game Lamont was forced to play through was a largely meaningless Test at the start of the season; the SFU’s focus should have been on getting him fit and in good form for the 6 Nations.
Of course, there are occasions where players don’t play due to injury despite the fact it isn’t that serious and won’t hamper performance (namely male England footballers) but most professionals sporting stars will do anything to play. It is their livelihood after all, as well as their greatest passion. They aren’t stupid, though, and will know when it is safe to participate and when it isn’t. This is what makes Lamont’s final claim even more frightening – he claims that players have cheated in concussion tests in order to play despite not being ready. Concussion is a brain injury so should be treated extremely seriously, even when only very minor, yet these players felt they had to potentially put their lives at risk just to please their coaches. Although this is a sickening claim, it could also help shock people into realizing that sport is just another job/form of entertainment, depending on who is taking part. There will always be risks, but hopefully this will make both players and coaches realise that you don’t need to undertake unnecessary ones that could damage your long-term health or worse. As the saying goes, it’s just a game.